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Republicans finally offer blue slip for Biden court nominee

Judge Doris Pryor is nominated to the Seventh Circuit and has the support of both of Indiana's GOP senators.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate Judiciary Committee considered a slate of judicial nominees Wednesday, including a Seventh Circuit nominee who is the first of President Biden's circuit court picks to get approval from two Republican home-state senators.

Doris Pryor would ascend to the Chicago-based federal appeals court from the Southern District of Indiana where she has been a federal magistrate judge since 2018. Indiana Senators Mike Braun and Todd Young have both backed Pryor's nomination, the first time this Congress that any Republican has given the seal of approval known as a blue slip to a nominee who would serve their district.

In addition to Indiana, the Seventh Circuit hears appeals from federal courts in Wisconsin and Illinois.

While Biden set a record in just the first year of his term for the highest number of court nominees, he has taken care to avoid the chance of Republicans withholding a blue slip by putting his focus on judicial vacancies in states with Democratic delegations.

“I'm appreciative of the president's willingness to consult with me and Senator Braun, when this position became available in an effort to appoint a judge who is earn respect and support from all sides of the political aisle,” Young said at Wednesday's hearing.

The nomination of Pryor, who is Black and briefly served as a deputy public defender in Arkansas, also fulfills additional goals that Biden has set in the appointment process to increase the demographic and professional diversity of the federal bench.

Pryor also spent more than a decade as an assistant U.S. attorney in Indiana.

She drew some skepticism from Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah over a speech she made a few years prior during a celebration of Constitution Day at her son’s school. In the speech, Pryor referred to the Constitution as a “living document.”

"What's important about it is that the Framers saw the need to be able to have this Constitution be able to apply to circumstances that they might not have thought of," Pryor testified Wednesday, saying she had a commitment to Supreme Court precedents.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota gave a lighthearted dig at Lee for bringing up Pryor's old comments.

"I was first paralyzed at the thought that, judge, you're going to talk at your kid's Constitution Day, and it shows up at the Senate Judiciary hearing, but I assume that's your son sitting behind you, right? So he's responsible for that line of questioning," Klobuchar joked, garnering laughs from the nominee and attendees.

The committee on Wednesday additionally considered a Ninth Circuit nominee, Roopali Desai, who would be the first South Asian person to sit on the San Francisco-based court.

Desai is a partner at the law firm of Coppersmith Brockelman in Phoenix. While her background drew praise from Democrats, Republican members of the committee were particularly critical of her work in state election cases.

Last year, Desai filed an amicus brief on behalf of clients in the Supreme Court case of Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, arguing that an Arizona law banning third parties from collecting absentee ballots was racially discriminatory and violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Supreme Court rejected those arguments and upheld the law.

"It rejected the argument. You wrote as an advocate that prohibitions on ballot harvesting are designed to suppress minority votes. Do you believe that as a factual matter?" Republican Senator Ted Cruz asked Desai.

"The statements that you're reading from were written in an amicus brief as an advocate filing on behalf of my clients. As a judge, I would apply unreservedly, fully and faithfully the precedent set forth by the court," she replied.

Desai saw additional jabs from Lee for another amicus brief she filed, this time in the case of Brush & Nib Studio v. State of Arizona, arguing that a small business refusing to create invitations for a same-sex wedding on the basis of religious beliefs violated the state's constitution.

That brief was filed on behalf of a series of religious and nonsectarian organizations, and the Arizona Supreme Court similarly rejected the plaintiff's arguments.

"It's true that some of my clients have been affiliated with Democratic causes, but I'm sure ... that I have represented clients, plaintiffs, defendants. ... I've represented large corporations, Fortune 500 companies, small business owners. I've represented the government in many cases," Desai testified.

Three other nominees the court considered Wednesday were Maria del Antongiorgi-Jordán, Judge Gina Méndez-Miró and Judge Camille L. Vélez-Rivé, all of whom are slated serve as district court judges for the District of Puerto Rico.

Antongiorgi-Jordán is a clerk of court for the District of Puerto Rico and spent more than 20 years in private practice as a partner at McConnell Valdés’ office in San Juan.

Vélez-Rivé is a magistrate judge in Puerto Rico, a role she’s held for 18 years. She previously worked as an assistant U.S. attorney and as an associate with the law firm of Pietrantoni Méndez.

Méndez-Miró has been a judge on the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals since 2016 and would be the first openly LGBTQ judge in Puerto Rico.

She also served in the Puerto Rico Office of Court Administration in several roles, including general counsel and director of the legal affairs office.

During her time with the judicial branch, Méndez-Miró managed adult and juvenile drug court programs.

"The right to rehabilitate is a constitutional right in Puerto Rico, so it's of the paramount importance in Puerto Rico," she testified. "That's probably one of my most gratifying experiences and knowledge, trying to make deals with prosecutors, court staff and judges to design guidelines that are balanced, that are addressing the issues of addiction in a way that that understands it is a sickness."

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